Ottawa Convention Centre
February 1, 2012
Check against delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction. It is wonderful to be here to welcome such a diverse group of people, and so many of you from the North.
There is no doubt that we’re in the midst of an era of rapid change in the North. Events such as the Northern Lights Business and Cultural Showcase contribute to our understanding and how we approach this change. This year’s edition of the conference promises to be the best ever: four days of roundtable discussions and workshops on key issues facing the North, along with a trade show, arts and culture pavilion and numerous opportunities to network with other delegates. I am delighted to see that you will all have many opportunities to learn about the latest developments in Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
This year’s event also features a remarkable range of guest speakers, including provincial and territorial premiers, presidents and CEOs of private companies, and academics and researchers. Delegates will hear a variety of perspectives on what the future holds for the North.
Today, I’d like to share some of my views on the North. I was born and raised in the North and have spent my career serving Nunavummiut. During my lifetime, the North has undergone monumental transformations. These transformations are what first inspired me many years ago to run for office. I wanted to influence the course of change—to ensure that change would directly benefit Inuit and Northerners. The same inspiration drives me today.
The same objective also lies behind the Government of Canada’s Northern Strategy. The Strategy seeks to improve the quality of life experienced by Northerners and to ensure that Northerners share in, and contribute to, Canada’s ongoing prosperity. To achieve this goal, the Strategy takes a holistic approach, one that addresses economic and social development, sovereignty, environmental protection and Northern governance. To maximize the impact of federal investments and initiatives, the Strategy takes a coordinated, whole-of-government approach.
Since implementation of the Strategy a few years ago, significant progress has been made on all fronts. Here at Northern Lights, we’re surrounded by evidence of this progress: confident Northern entrepreneurs proposing projects and seeking partners, accomplished Northern artists promoting their works, and dedicated representatives of multiple levels of government discussing ways to improve collaboration.
The mood of this year’s conference is clearly optimistic and I am proud of the work our Government is doing to support this.
Given that the theme of this year’s event focuses on economic development, I’d like to highlight a few of the Strategy’s relevant accomplishments. And I’d like to begin with the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency—CanNor for short. Since it was established in 2009, CanNor has invested more than $80 million in a range of projects that help strengthen and diversify the Northern economy, and create business and job opportunities for Northerners. These projects include upgrading northern infrastructure; support for cultural industries such as arts, crafts and film; tourism marketing; and mine skills training.
We all recognize that resource development projects are a major driver of the Northern economy. They create employment and business opportunities, and generate revenues, taxes and royalties that benefit Northerners and all Canadians. Yet the regulatory regimes that exist to review proposals have struggled to keep up with the rapid increase in the number of projects. To address this issue, our Government has launched the Northern Regulatory Improvement Initiative and has established the Northern Projects Management Office, as part of CanNor.
The Northern Projects Management Office improves the transparency, timeliness and predictability of regulatory processes. For project proponents, the Northern Projects Management Office provides a single-window pathfinding service to industry, to ensure that projects proceed as efficiently as possible through various regulatory reviews.
CanNor also supports resource development by investing in the fundamental elements that drive these major projects. Geoscience research provides essential information for resource exploration and development, which helps drive investment in the North. Since 2009, CanNor has invested almost $20 million in various geosciences research projects across the North. This research will inform decisions not only about exploration and investment, but also about land-use planning and the creation of parks and other protected areas. And last year, CanNor helped the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines establish an office in Iqaluit.
To help diversify the economy, CanNor supports projects in a number of other sectors, such as fishing, tourism and communications infrastructure, including major improvements to broadband services in Nunavut.
The Northern Strategy is about much more than economic development, of course; it also focuses on social development and sound environmental stewardship. Since the Strategy was launched, this government expanded the Nahanni National Park Reserve and created six new National Wildlife Areas. A feasibility study is underway for a proposed park in Lancaster Sound.
This government has also made major investments in social infrastructure in the North: in housing, nutrition, health care and recreational facilities. Education and skills development are also important. Budget 2011 committed to expand adult basic education programming in the North, so that Northerners have the skills needed to enter the labour market or take further vocational training.
Just last month, I was proud to announce federal support for a training course for 120 Inuit fishers. This investment will complement the construction of a commercial fishing harbour in Pangnirtung.
These are just a few of our Government’s initiatives that will help unlock the North’s vast potential. The truth is that the North is playing an increasingly important role in Canada’s future. There is a direct link between North and South in Canada. As a Northerner, I like to remind people everywhere I go that what is good for the North, is good the rest of Canada. This is why it’s so important to work together to ensure that the changes underway in the North have a positive effect for all Canadians.
There is every reason to be optimistic about the North. Many new projects are underway; many more are in development. New transportation corridors are taking shape and new industries are emerging. Across the North, Aboriginal peoples are engaged in a growing number of sectors. Governance structures and regulatory regimes are growing stronger and more efficient.
Despite all of this progress, however, the North faces significant challenges, such as balancing environmental, social and economic concerns. Meeting these challenges will absolutely require broad collaboration and innovative ideas.
Ultimately, this is what Northern Lights is all about: people from a range of backgrounds working together to contribute to a positive future of the North. I encourage everyone to listen carefully over the next few days. Keep your minds open and share your views freely. Let us work together to ensure that the North participates and shares fully in Canada’s long-term prosperity.